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Bemba’s Men Plundered Shops, Homes, Churches

A prosecution witness today described how Congolese soldiers from the group led by war crimes accused Jean-Pierre Bemba plundered homes, churches, and shops in the Central African Republic (CAR) town of Damara near the capital Bangui. The witness also stated that these soldiers killed some civilians they accused of supporting rebels who were attempting to topple then president Ange-Félix Patassé.

“In Damara, there wasn’t a single shop that went unlooted,” stated ‘Witness 63.’ He added, “And all churches, practically all of them, whether Catholic or Protestant, they had been plundered. All houses in Damara were looted.”

The witness, who testified with face and voice distortion in order to keep his identity unknown to the public, stated that at one time he came across a bush clearing where the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) soldiers had piled their loot. Subsequently, the foreign troops asked local women to carry some of the loot to the port of Bangui, from where it shipped across the River Oubangui to the Democratic Republic of Congo, the witness said. “But the loot that belonged to the leader [of the MLC soldiers in the area] was transported on trucks,” he added.

According to the witness, the MLC entered Damara in pursuit of rebels who were attempting to overthrow Mr. Patassé. The witness stated that the MLC were in the country to help Mr. Patassé to defeat the rebels, who were led by Francois Bozizé.

He added that MLC soldiers often stopped civilians they met as they pursued the insurgents and asked them if they were rebels or wives of rebels. “After stopping someone, they were in the habit of killing the victims in the night,” said the witness.

‘Witness 63’ also talked about a girl who told him that she had been gang-raped by MLC fighters. However, he gave details about the attack on the girl in closed session. In fact, during the morning, the witness gave nearly all his evidence in closed session. At the start of the afternoon hearing, presiding judge Sylvia Steiner announced that the rest of the day’s session would be held in private session in order for the witness to “feel free to speak.”

‘Witness 63’ commenced his testimony last Wednesday, and on Thursday, he explained that because of the nature of his work, he stealthily followed the MLC as they went about their campaign to rout Mr. Bozizé’s rebels. Today, he stated, “When I was doing this kind of work I was doing it for posterity, for the history of Central Africa.” He did not elaborate in open court.

The trial is scheduled to continue tomorrow morning.